Friday, 31 August 2012

Patrick McGilligan TD

Statesman and Academic 

A snide reference to Patrick McGilligan by Brendan Keenan in the Irish Independent has prompted me to put some pertinent facts on my blog. McGilligan was one of the most brilliant of many outstanding people who helped to found our state and to serve it throughout it's formative decades.

Patrick McGilligan TD
He was born in Castlerock, Co. Derry in 1889 and he died in 1979 at Our Lady's Manor, Co. Dublin where he had been a patient for some years. The son of a former Parnellite Nationalist MP for South Armagh, he served as Minister for Industry and Commerce, Minister for External Affairs, Minister for Finance and Attorney General in successive governments. But his name will be forever linked with the building of the Ardnacrusha power scheme and the founding of the ESB.

In economic terms, the building of the Shannon Scheme and the establishment of the ESB was a major achievement. Attacked by every vested interest group, refused financing by the banks, scoffed at by the engineers and political opponents, McGilligan gave the country the essential prerequisite for later industrial development and put in place the first ever State body. While in London, he had met a young Irish engineer, Dr.Tommy McLaughlin, who then worked for the giant Siemens Schuckert firm and whose dream was to harness the waters of the River Shannon for the generation of electricity.

With Desmond Fitzgerald at the Imperial Conference in 1931, McGilligan secured agreement on the rights of Commonwealth States to be recognised as separate entities "in voluntary association". This enabled the Free State to order it's own constitutional destiny as it so wished. This is how the Treaty of 1922 was designed to work; move gradually, with agreement, towards the desired goal. The extremists wanted all or nothing—and always ended up with nothing. The change of government in 1932 brought a period of economic stagnation. Fianna Fail's attitude was to avoid involvement with other countries whether it was to our advantage or not. The cry "the English market is gone for ever, thank God" was nothing short of lunacy.

In his 16 years in opposition, McGilligan built up a strong legal practice. Eventually he was appointed Professor of Constitutional and International Law, Criminal Law and Procedure at UCD. He also read widely in economics and international finance and when the first inter-party government was formed in 1948, the Taoiseach, John A. Costello, appointed him Minister for Finance. During his tenure, Keynesian principals were introduced for the first time and McGilligan backed the economic changes proposed by Costello's advisers Patrick Lynch and Alexis Fitzgerald. Unfortunately, the Inter-Party government lost office too quickly in 1951 as a result of internal cabinet problems.When they returned to power in 1954, McGilligan was in frail health and was appointed Attorney-General. However the appointment of Gerard Sweetman as Minister for Finance was also an excellent one. Sweetman initiated a Programme of Economic Development and appointed Dr.Ken Whitaker, at the age of 40, as Secretary of the Dept. of Finance.

The introduction of Export Profits Tax Relief (EPTR), a forerunner of the low corporation tax introduced the following year, would shape industrial policy and overall development strategy for the next 50 years. The IDA had been set up by the first inter-party government, in the face of Fianna Fail opposition, to initiate proposals for the creation of industries and to attract foreign industrialists. The second coalition extended it's powers. Manufacturing exports, which had remained stagnant for years, grew by 18% in the year following the introduction of EPTR and doubled between 1956 and 1960. Manufacturing output and employment grew inexorably from 1957 onwards.

Much more could be written on the same theme. But I will finish with the observation that men of Patrick McGilligan's brilliance and achievement often attracted jealousy from those who were far less accomplished.

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